Varsities Bill against public interest

It is shocking to notice the kind of harm that the Karnataka State Universities Bill, introduced in the state Assembly by Higher Education Minister Basavaraj Rayareddi last week, will inflict on the
cause of higher education in the state. The bill seeks to replace seven separate universities acts, which are in force now, with a single law. The Siddaramaiah government wants to bring all the 17 universities in the state within the ambit of this one law, claiming that it will improve their functioning. But it will actually impose control in the name of consolidation, and rigidity and uncertainty in the name of uniformity and rule-based functioning. The first principle about higher education is that there should be minimum government interference, which means political control, over their affairs. But this bill is designed to make such control easier.

Most key clauses make it very clear that the government aims to take total control of the university educa­tion through the bill. Its nominees will dominate the search and selection panel for vice-chancellors under the bill. The chairman will be a nominee of the government, not of the chancellor. That means the vice-chancellor, who holds the most important position in the university, will in effect, be a government nominee. This will also solve the problem, in the government’s view, of conflict with the chancellors who sometimes have different views on appointments and other issues. The chancellor’s powers will be curtailed as they can be exercised only in consultation with the government. All recruitments will also be centralised, again for total control of appointments. It does not make sense to have central control over appointments in different kinds of universities in different places. The building of infrastructure, which involves spending of money, will be tightly controlled by a common board, with approval needed from the government. Control of cash often means corruption, and when politicians decide how and for what money is spent, the real needs of a university take a back seat. It is the university that should decide what infrastructure it should have, but the bill leaves it to the government.

Universities need autonomy in their functioning and decision-making to achieve excellence and maintain the best standards. The best universities in the world are those that have the least interference from outside their walls. The bane of Indian universities is that they have been the playthings of politicians and officials. This bill seeks to tighten their grip on the state’s universities. It is not in public interest and is detrimental to higher education. It will hurt the cause of students, teachers and the people, who have a high stake in the state’s education. It should be withdrawn at once.

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